The reviews for Iphigenia in Tauris have been extremely positive, and all that has been said has been enlightening, one way or another. Two 5Stars (Yaaaay!), A lovely wad of 4Stars (Also Yaaaaay!), and the obligitory 2Star to boot (Meh.) - I wanted to talk a little about them all.
‘London Theatre One’ found the play to be “inspiring and uplifting”, recommending people to "go to see it" – not only for the play – but also to “help the Rose Playhouse raise the money it needs to continue”. This is a thoughtful touch; after all, this is a Rose in-house show – the purpose of the project is to continue fundraising for the excavation. ‘LT1’ gave us 4 stars.
‘LDN Card’ , another of our 4 star reviews, were particularly generous; calling the cast “thrilling and courageous” before bestowing little praises on all the actors individually … they said I was “cool” … Get in! This particular reviewer "left the show feeling enlightened".
‘Carn’s Theatre Passion’ – a charming blog by guest reviewer Liz Dyer– gave us a flattering 5 stars; calling the play “extremely powerful”. Again, a little comment for each individual member of the creative team made for a very invigorating boost for us all. Dyer concludes her review by calling the show "intimate and spectacular", encouraging her readers to "See it while you can".
I can’t really disprove or discredit our harshest critic, ‘London City Nights’, who gave us two stars – their criticisms lay firmly with the “Overwrought Dialogue”. Altough I wouldn't call the language "Overwrought", I do appreciate that this is a very poetic play - unfortunately, this didn't work for them. The text is certainly not the most ‘contemporary’, and Goethe is part of a period in theatre history that is barely known or appreciated. They make mention of this; including that their critique says “as much about [The Critic] as it does about the play” and that, even though they didn’t enjoy the text, they accept that “Goethe is considered a titan of literature” – but this isn’t enough to appease them; they didn't appreciate the poetry and sparing action of the play. They couldn’t really “fault the cast too much” as we focused on what was “relatable” in the text. This review boiled down to the unescapable fact that the reviewer simply doesn't like Goethe. All in, not really a 'bad' review; just a reviewer who struggles to enjoy this kind of play.
Posted on ‘The Play’s The Thing’ – one of Wordpress’ finer blogs – Laura Kressly writes that Iphigenia was among the “most effectively staged productions” she has seen at The Rose. An obvious fan of Goethe, Kressly calls the text "rich" and "imagery-laden". Ben and I got a special mention too (so thanks Laura for that!). Laura has been the first of the critics to comment on the “homoerotic and genuinely lovely” relationship that Orestes and Pylades have in this play (Although GayUK are yet to release their review…). It’s interesting that this has been disregarded (or unnoticed) by others; I believe it’s an important and vibrant counterpoint to the austere, familial love that makes up the other relationships in the play. It brings something of the passion of youth to the story, as well as solidifying the longevity of Orestes’ suffering and Pylades’ dedication. I like to think that the true horror of Orestes’ situation is best portrayed not through his maddening expositions, which are captivating and impactive, but in the strength of the young friends' unity against them. Also, Kressly neatly summerises the efforts and talents of our awesome production team; "Director Pamela Schermann worked well with designers Gillian Steventon and Petr Vocka to create such an evocative atmosphere. Sound design by Philip Matejtschuk really ties the rest of the design elements together".
'Female Arts' chimed in later in the day with our second 5 stars; focusing on the relationships between "Weimar Classicism", Pascal's translation, and the marriage of unique space and storytelling. Tessa Hart clearly has an interest in the academic side of this project; mentioning that this is the first staging of Pascal's translation, commenting on the poetic metre and detailing the archaeological environment. in contract to London City Nights, Female arts felt that there was "a lot of clarity in its language, making it very accessible even for contemporary audiences who may not be familiar with the play". The review finishes on a lovely note, calling Iphigenia "a rarely seen gem in many, many ways and definitely one to check out"
I have to say, having not done a great deal of 'reviewable' theatre - having worked mainly in Theatre for young people - it has been really interesting to gain an insight into the world of theatre blogs. I think it is a far more fruitful and diverse world than that of the mainstream critics. These are reviews devoid of expectation or financial incentive, and have proven to be very well thought out labours of love. 'There Ought to be Clowns' by Ian Foster (blogspot) wrote an interesting comparison between our Iphigenia and the Iphigenia recently staged at the Almeida, focusing on the multitudinous world of Greek Myth. Foster then goes on to make a ponderous comment on how our play is a "Greek/German collaboration" and the political lessons that "could and should be heeded now". Foster describes the play as a "charged world" that resonates "as strongly here as [it] could have done in Ancient Greece or the German Enlightenment".
The reviews have highlighted both the unique text and the stagecraft across the board. What has been consistent is that Iphigenia In Tauris is a play appreciated for its academic or historical significance. Whether they're Ancient Greek fanatics, Goethe geeks, Rose lovers or Poetry appreciators - the play has appealled to those with pre-existing interest in one of its elements, as well as those new to the whole genre. This leads me to think about whether 'good' theatre puts its focus totally on being relatable and accessible to everyone, or whether it's ok to create theatre that requires a form of prerequisite or an openess to the unknown. I think it is. Ultimately, any play that has an academic or historic heart is likely to divide audiences, as it is with Shakespeare or Euripides or Beckett or any other titan from history. If a text still has the life and beauty to attract a company to perform it, then its staging is going to stimulate the imaginiations of a wider audience than the written words alone. There are, of course, complicated considerations when staging a play like this; for example, our Iphigenia was under strict observation by the publisher and the revered academic who wrote the foreword to the translation. We were asked to be 'true to form' when working with the text and each cut had to be approved by them both. We were spinning two plates throughout the process; upon the first plate sat the purist publisher, and on the other sat the demands of a contemporary audience totally unaccustomed to Goethe's style. The success of the play, as I mentioned in a previous blog, has come down to whether or not our director and us actors can come to terms with the power and form of the language and connect with the emotional impetus of each of the characters; luckily, most critics agree we did. What is certain is that the experience has been a challenging one but an educational and exciting one; exercising our ability to express ourselves upon foreign tongues.
The play is a marvel of poetic language, the Rose Playhouse is a haunting and deeply moving space, and we do our best not to fuck anything up. Get your tickets here!!